The Holy Lakes of Tibet (Photo Essays)

Holy Lakes of Tibet

Before to visit a country, or a region, we all have a general idea of what to expect. And, unless we research our trip in advance, this idea is usually wrong.

I was expecting to find a barren land composed by mountains and rocks in Tibet. Conversely, the Eastern Tibet plateau is a green land where Lakes act as the main character.

There are nine Holy Lakes in Tibet. Today I want to focus on the two that I was able to visit, Namtso Lake and Yamdrok Lake. They are, together with Manasarovar Lake, the most famous lakes of Tibet.

Namtso LakeNamtso Lake

Getting to Namtso Lake

We left early from in Lhasa and got on the bus without even know where we were going. This is what happens when you tour guide barely speaks English. We discovered soon that we were going to spend almost all day on the bus. Our destination?

Namtso Lake, which is located about 260 Km on the North of Lhasa, at 4,718 m (15,479 ft) of altitude. In order to arrive to the Lake you’ll have to reach a mountain pass at 5,300 m of altitude and then descend to the Lake.

It takes about five hours to get to the lake. The road is new and not dangerous at all (go to Lugu Lake if you wish to feel in danger).

Namtso LakeA yak at Namtso Lake

The only challenge of the trip is represented by the need of drinking a huge amount of water to continuously re-rehydrate your brain (and thus limit the altitude sickness symptoms) and the fact that the bus stops only every two hours so you can’t pee when you want. It seems silly, but this was exactly what I experienced!

I’ve already discussed how to minimize the altitude sickness symptoms on my guide to travel to Tibet, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Namtso LakeTibetan flags at Namtso Lake

Namtso Lake

As I said, Namtso Lake lies at 4,718 meters of altitude and, if you aren’t used to it, you’ll feel bloody tired. Even walking was difficult, let’s forget about climbing the rock on the right side of the lake (see photo above).

Another thing that caught my attention was that, although it was snowing a bit, there was the sun and we could get around without jacket. I think this was caused by the fact that we were standing on the highest plateau of the world, where the sun is stronger.

Namtso Lake snowIf you look closely the jacket of the guy, you can see the snow

While I was doing some research to write this article, I stumbled upon an interesting story. The lake has five islands that were used for spiritual retreat. The pilgrims would walk over the frozen lake at the beginning of the spring, spend the summer on an island and come back only at the beginning of the next winter, when the water would frozen again. Nowadays the government doesn’t allow this practice anymore.

The mountains behind Namtso LakeThe mountains behind Namtso Lake

Beside enjoying the landscape, the snow under the sun and trying to catch up your breath, there isn’t much to do at the lake (there isn’t even a restaurant, if I remember well). You can still take a pic with a yak or a local person though. It will cost you between 10 and 20 RMB.

Also, you can spend the night in a guest house, that is a tent, and watch the sunrise from the top of the small hill close to the lake.

A last word of caution: Some travel agencies will accept to bring you to the lake at any time (money comes first!). However in the winter it can be dangerous as there is too much snow so it’s better to avoid it.

Yak at Namtso LakeYet another yak!

Namtso LakeA last photo of Namtso Lake before we return to Lhasa!

Yamdrok Lake

The day after we visited Namtso Lake we began our trip from Lhasa to Shigatse, which is a quite popular town among tourists because it’s on the way to the Everest Base Camp and Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

Yamdrok LakeThe first glance of Yamdrok Lake (if you are coming from Lhasa)

It takes about three-four hours to travel from Lhasa to the mountain that stands above Yamdrok Lake. Even if we were at an elevation of 4,441 m (14,570 ft), I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness during this second day outside Lhasa. I don’t know whether it makes a big difference between the 4,718 m of Namtso Lake and the 4,441 m of Yamdrok Lake or, simply, my body got used to the altitude.

Monks at Yamdrok LakeThe monks can be tourist too!

Apparently it doesn’t exist a point from which you can the whole lake at the same time. One of the reasons is that Yamdrok Lake is surrounded by mountains. The other reason is that it stretches along 72 Km. After taking some pics from the mountain, we got on the bus again and slowly climbed down the mountain till we reached the bank of the lake.

Yamdrok LakeYamdrok Lake

We drove close to the lake’s bank for about one or two hours, during which the bus stopped again to give us the possibility to touch the water of the lake, takes some more pics and visit one of worst toilets in the world.

Yamdrok LakeWorst toilet in the world

Yamdrok LakeYamdrok Lake

Yamdrok LakeYamdrok Lake

Then we headed to a restaurant on the way to Shigatse. I will write about it during the next weeks.

p.s. As I’ve already stressed in my previous article, you can’t travel alone to Tibet and you need to join an organized trip with a travel agency such as

Photo Credits: Photos by Sapore di Cina & Florian Hudelist

5 thoughts on “The Holy Lakes of Tibet (Photo Essays)”

  1. Hi Furio
    Amazing your blog, but which lake did you prefer? I can only go on one and I’m hesitant. Thanks

  2. There is a restaurant at Namtso lake, and the food is not all that bad. The toilet there is far worse than anything I have ever seen before.

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